Royal observers wonder if the Queen will ever return to full duties

When the Queen tested positive for Covid at the age of 95, it made headlines around the world.

Buckingham Palace initially said she would carry on working but was soon forced to concede she needed rest and cancelled a series of virtual engagements.

Now, royal observers are speculating whether the monarch will ever return to full duties. While they dismissed the idea of her voluntarily relinquishing her core duties, respected authors and academics said the days of walkabouts and meet-and-greets could well be over for the Queen.

The royal author Penny Junor said: “I think she still feels there’s life in her yet. I think she enjoys what she does and, so long as she is fit enough, she will carry on doing light duties. But I don’t think we will see her going back to travelling the country on a weekly basis and doing quite so many receptions and live engagements.

“She is about to be 96. That is a very, very good age. And she’s remarkable for that age, physically. But I think she is getting frailer, inevitably, and the fact she stepped back from one or two duties before she got Covid – before the Cop26 conference – I think that was really her acknowledging that to be running around like a 65-year-old when you’re 95 catches up with you.”

Instead, Junor suggested the monarch might continue to hold many engagements via video link in future to lighten the burden. “There would be huge disappointment if she disappeared from view. People want to see a familiar face, a comforting face, a reassuring face. And if that’s on the end of a video call, then so be it. She’s put out some very powerful messages via video link,” Junor said.

The Queen appeared to have recovered well from Covid when she appeared in two virtual audiences with foreign ambassadors on Tuesday, nine days after catching the virus that affects older people more seriously than the young. She spoke to three foreign diplomats from her home at Windsor Castle.

She has also been facing personal trauma after the loss of her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, last year and the stress of her son Prince Andrew facing, then settling, a sexual assault case filed against him in the US. Andrew has denied any wrongdoing. The settlement spared him the potential humiliation of giving evidence in a trial and protected the royal family from further reputational damage.

The campaign group Republic said that, should the Queen find herself unable to carry on, she should step down – like anyone else no longer able to do their job – and be replaced by an elected head of state.

However, Junor was joined by Prof Vernon Bogdanor, an author, political scientist and expert on the British constitution, and Joe Little, the managing editor of Majesty magazine, in her belief that there would be no circumstances short of death or loss of mental capacity under which they could see the Queen relinquishing her duties – though all three said it was quite possible those duties would no longer be carried out face to face.

Little said he believed she would continue with public engagements, but said that how she approaches those planned for coming weeks would indicate how she was likely to see out her reign.

“The way Buckingham Palace have phrased it when announcing the programme for March is these are engagements that the Queen hopes to attend. So there’s no commitment, there’s an element of flexibility there that she will if she can.

“I would guess this is how it’s going to be for the remainder of her reign; it will depend on the Queen’s health as to how much is arranged for her publicly.”

He added: “Of course, she has not really be seen in public for two years [amid the Covid pandemic]. There have been occasional outings. But, on a grand scale and the way that she would normally have been seen, we’ve had to rely on TV messages. So she is very keen to be seen again. Whether that is possible remains to be seen.”

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